“Come Clean” (Matthew 3:13-17)

By | January 3, 2010

Life Is Messy Series


     O Brother Where Art Thou has become one of my favorite movies. I love the retelling of Homer’s Odyssey through the imagery of the South during the depression. AND I particularly love that baptism scene because I think it seems to capture the very essence of what baptism is all about.

     As you watch the scene unfold you see the deep human need we all have through the tugging of the heart and spirit of Delmar. He sees and recognizes the baptismal procession but also instinctively recognizes his need for spiritual cleansing and renewal. And he acts upon it. And then there’s that last line of invitation, “Come on in, boys, the water’s fine!”

     I love that. Every time someone is baptized, that’s the invitation from God, “Come On In, the Water’s Fine! Come to me and Come Clean and become Clean”

     You see that’s what God wants for us. Every time we have one of those moments where our lives are renewed through a fresh outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, that’s the invitation from God, “Come On In, the Water’s Fine!” For those of us who’ve already been baptized it’s an invitation to “Come Clean” to remember and be renewed.

     For those who haven’t been baptized, it’s an invitation to  take the plunge, to “Come Clean” and become Clean in God’s eyes through Christ. “Come On In, the Water’s Fine!”


     As United Methodists, we have a distinct heritage and a unique set of beliefs which tell everyone that they are welcome. Those beliefs are expressed in how and why celebrate the two Sacrament, Baptism and Holy Communion. Through Holy Communion and Baptism we are reminded that God’s Table and the waters of Baptism are open to everyone. I personally think that’s one of the reasons Jesus was Baptized.

     Matthew 3:13-17 tells us the events of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptizer was at the Jordan River preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This is what happened next.

[13] Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.

[14] John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

[15] But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

[16] And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.

[17] And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

     Today we stand with Jesus at the Jordan River. But we have to ask the question, “Why?”

     We affirm that Jesus was the sinless Son of God. If that’s true, then why did Jesus have to submit to John’s baptism? Jesus didn’t need that kind of baptism. He was and would remain sinless. John even tells Him, “I need to be baptized by you.”

     Jesus gently reminds John that it’s all part of the greater plan and purpose and it will fulfill all righteousness. I think Jesus had a deeper purpose than even just fulfilling “all righteousness.” You see, His Baptism told people Who He Was, Whose He Was and How Eternal Those Claims Were.

     The same holds true for us.


     A. As Jesus was Baptized a voice from Heaven, the voice of God, said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

     I’ve been in ministry for over 30 years and during all the baptisms I’ve performed, I’ve never heard a voice from heaven. However, each time I baptized an infant, teen or adult, I knew those words were true, even though they were unspoken because in baptism God reminds us Who We Are.

     B. A perfect example can be found in Pixar’s Toy Story 2. In the movie, Woody is kidnapped and taken to the apartment of a “bad” toy store owner.

     Woody finds himself in a dark room, all alone. He’s trying to escape when he hears noises behind him and sees packing popcorn coming out of a box. The next thing he knows is he’s flung on the back of a toy horse who runs around the room excitedly. He falls off the horse and then he’s bowled over by an over excited cowgirl, Jessie, who keeps hollering, “It’s you. It’s you. I can’t believe it’s really you. The Prospector said you’d come”

     Jessie then says, “Holy mother of Abraham Lincoln, the Prospector will want to meet you.”

     Jessie and the horse, whose name happens to be Bullseye, bring out the Prospector, in mint condition, still in his original box. Woody is confused by all of this but can’t understand how they know his name and asks “Hey, how do you know my name?”

     Jessie says, “Everyone knows your name, Woody.” Woody’s even more confused than ever.

     And the Prospector says, “Why, you don’t know who you are, do you?” He then has Bullseye turn on the lights of a display filled with Woody memorabilia. It seems Woody was the star of a TV show, “Woody’s Round Up.” Woody is totally flabbergasted and overwhelmed. (2)

     C. That’s the way it is with baptism. God, the Creator, knows us before we ever know who God is. Through this sacrament of Baptism we are told who we truly are, a child of God. We may stand amazed like Woody when it all finally sinks in. But you and I are children of God, heirs of the Kingdom, brothers and sisters with Christ Jesus, the Son of God.

     As an heir of the Kingdom, as a child of God, we realize that God doesn’t make junk. We are created by a loving God in the very Image of God. That means You are a designer original. There are no plain label or generic brands in God’s eyes. You each have a famous maker label. The waters of our Baptism tell Who We Are.


     A. The waters of our Baptism also tell us Whose We Are. You see we were created for a purpose. We weren’t mass produced and stuck on a shelf until someone came along to claim us. From the moment of our creation, we were made to belong to God. And when we are Baptized, the waters of our Baptism tell us Whose We Are.

     B. In the original Toy Story, there is a perfect example. Woody is the favorite toy of a little boy named Andy. But Andy’s birthday rolls around and suddenly there is a rival for Andy’s affection and attention named Buzz Lightyear. Buzz Lightyear is the newer toy and gets played with more. Of course, Woody gets jealous.

     But what sets them both apart is something they both only sort of realize. Here, Watch this scene.

     Woody has awakened after his first night of not sleeping in bed with Andy. He’s grump and jealous. And he overhears Buzz Lightyear telling two of the other toys, Rex and slinky: “Say there, lizard and stretchy dog, let me show you something. Looks as though I’ve been accepted into your culture. Your chief, Andy inscribed his name on me.”

     Buzz holds up his foot and sure enough, there’s the name “Andy” written on Buzz’s shoe. Rex and Slinky both marvel and Rex says, “Wow, with permanent ink, too.”

     Woody sees all this. He’s so jealous and angry that he’s about to bust a gut,. Woody looks at his shoe and sure enough, Andy’s name is there, too. But it doesn’t help. Bo Peep tries to comfort him but he’s still angry because it seems Buzz is taking his place.

     One of the things that struck me about that scene is that both of Andy’s special toys, Woody and Buzz, have Andy’s name of them. They have been marked with a symbol of belonging to Andy.

     Jesus knew Who He Was before he went for baptism, but John wasn’t sure and neither was the crowd. As soon as Jesus was baptized “suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

     From that moment on there was no doubt Who He Was and Whose He Was. God claimed Him and the water of His baptism was God’s mark. That’s what Baptism does for us, too. It marks us with God’s signature. It’s as if God signed His name on us with permanent ink. It is our invisible watermark that tells us both Who We Are and Whose We Are.


     A. The water of Baptism also tells us How Eternal Those Claims Are. You see, sometimes we forget Who We Are and Whose We Are. Or through bad choices we’ve made in our life, we’ve slipped away from God and not lived as an heir of the Kingdom or child of God. We may even think God no longer claims us. But we’re wrong.

     B. One more illustration from Toy Story 2. Remember Woody has been taken and is being made ready to sell. The toy store owner calls in the Restorer and fixes Woody’s torn arm, cleans him up and makes him like new. The very last thing he does is paint over Andy’s signature on Woody’s foot. Watch.

     Let me ask you this. Who does Woody belong to? Did painting over Andy’s name change Woody’s ownership? No! Woody still belonged to Andy no matter what was done to him.

     It is the same with us. The waters of our Baptism constantly remind us of How Eternal God’s Claim in our life is.

     It is God who Restores us and makes us like new when we “Come Clean” and remember Who We Are and Whose We Are and How Eternal Those Claims Are.


     You have been created by a loving God. You are a designer original. It doesn’t matter if you have forgotten Who You Are or Whose You Are, if you have been Baptized, God’s Claim in your life is eternal. Today God wants you to remember that.

     If you have never been baptized, know this, God wants you to know Who You Are and Whose You are so you can walk in the Spirit with God as a Child of God. God wants to Claim that promise eternally for you and empower your life with His love through Christ.

     It doesn’t matter if you’ve never felt good enough to belong. God wants you to live fully as a child of God. All it takes is a little faith and a little water. You are a child of God, that’s what the Gospel of John says.         “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

     God, Himself, invites you to belong. You see, there’s plenty of room at God’s Table and there’s plenty of Water to make anyone Clean. Today as you come to the Table, get your fill from this all you can eat buffet of God’s grace but also, take time to remember your baptism.

     Remember Who You Are, Whose You Are and How Eternal Those Claims Are in your life.


This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



1.    Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651, September 1984

2.    Thanks to Kathryn Self, Plano TX for the idea behind this illustration